The following comes from a February 27 column in First Things by Michael New, assistant professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of Roe v. Wade’s recent forty-year anniversary indicated that grassroots abortion rights activists are pessimistic about the future. However, in the days before the March for Life many pro-choice commentators expressed optimism. They claimed that recent polling data indicates that public opinion is shifting in a direction more sympathetic to legal abortion. For example, a recent Think Progress article cites a Fox News exit poll indicating that 59 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Similarly, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll covered in the Washington Post and elsewhere suggested that 70 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.

These hopeful takes from supporters of abortion all commit the cardinal sin of abortion politics: reading too much into the results of isolated surveys. To seriously analyze fluctuations in public opinion on abortion, one needs to consider responses to the same question, preferably asked by the same survey research firm, over a period of time. Indeed, surveys have always shown high public support for Roe v. Wade.

As Dave Andrusko points out in NRL News Today, there are several reasons for this. First, not all Americans realize that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion. Some people think the decision involved school desegregation or some other issue. Furthermore, many Americans think Roe v. Wade only legalized first trimester abortions. Others think that overturning Roe would ban abortion everywhere, instead of returning the issue to the states.

A poll released by Rasmussen after the election showed that “pro-choice” sentiment has increased to 54 percent, while only 38 percent of respondents described themselves as “pro-life.” This caused some concern among pro-life activists. However, a closer look at Rasmussen’s polling indicates Rasmussen polls have always shown higher pro-choice sentiment than Gallup polls. This might be because Rasmussen surveys likely voters, while Gallup surveys the population as a whole.

More importantly, the results of Rasmussen’s November poll showed very little change in abortion attitudes from a poll the firm took back in April. Rasmussen’s April survey also showed that likely voters were more likely to describe themselves as “pro-choice” than “pro-life,” by a 51–40 margin. In short, the “war on women” rhetoric and the inopportune statements by U.S. Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock only resulted in a three-percentage-point gain in “pro-choice” sentiment—a difference that falls within the poll’s margin of error.

More evidence of stable abortion attitudes comes from a recent Marist Poll that was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus. It found that 43 percent of Americans currently identify themselves as pro-life. This is very similar to the 40 percent that identified as pro-life in January 2012 and the 45 percent that identified as pro-life in June 2010. Similarly, the poll indicates that 56 percent of Americans currently feel that abortion should either always be illegal or legal only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the other. Five separate Marist surveys taken since October 2008 consistently show that at least 51 percent of Americans hold this position. Again, there is little evidence that Americans are becoming more sympathetic toward legal abortion.

The Knights of Columbus should be commended for commissioning this Marist survey. The mainstream media enjoys reporting on polls that purportedly show strong public sentiment in favor of legal abortion. However, by asking people what they thought about abortion in specific circumstances, Marist is able to present a more nuanced and a more accurate view of public attitudes toward abortion. Furthermore, pro-life groups should more frequently commission surveys on attitudes toward incremental pro-life laws. This would demonstrate that many short-term legislative objectives of the pro-life movement enjoy broad public support….

To read the entire column, click here.